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Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll July 17, 2014

Do Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski vote together 80 percent of the time?

Sen. Mark Begich says he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski are on the same team. But she doesn’t see it that way.

Murkowski, a Republican, has said that she hopes Begich, a Democrat, loses his seat to a Republican challenger in November. Both senators currently represent Alaska.

Despite Murkowski’s feelings, Begich is touting their teamwork in the Senate in a new radio ad.

"Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich vote as much as 80 percent of the time together — that’s healthy for Alaska. I have a great dislike for partisan politics," the ad says, narrated by a man identified as Skip Nelson, an aviator living in Anchorage. "I think Lisa and Mark are a great team for Alaska. I’d like to keep them there."

Murkowski, who is not up for re-election this year, fired back, telling the Alaska Dispatch that the pair agrees on some Alaska-specific issues, but regarding national matters, "There is a real departure between where Mark stands and where I stand."

And in a statement sent to PolitiFact, she said, "Over the last five years when we have taken a stand on the role of government in Alaskans' lives I have fundamentally disagreed with Sen. Begich... I believe we need less intervention from government while he pushes for more."

The current Republican front-runner hoping to beat Begich is former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan. Begich’s Republican opponents have tried to emphasize Begich’s ties to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

Considering this Congress’ penchant for polarization and Murkowski’s response, we thought it would be worthwhile to see if they really had voted together 80 percent of the time.

The numbers

The Begich campaign calculated the 80 percent figure using every roll call vote in 2014 in which both Murkowski and Begich participated, through July 2.

Murkowski and Begich voted 183 times, according to the campaign’s data, which we confirmed. They voted together 148 times, and they disagreed 35 times. Based on these numbers, the senators voted together 80.8 percent of the time for the first six months of 2014.

The 35 votes on which Begich and Murkowski disagreed in 2014 were primarily procedural, but the list also includes more than 10 judges’ and administrators’ confirmations that Murkowski opposed.

However, the pair has served together since 2009, so this is just a slice of their voting records.

Since the start of 2009, Begich and Murkowski have voted together 60 percent of the time, according to a comparison report by Congressional Quarterly, a nonpartisan outlet for congressional news and legislative tracking.

Although the 80 percent statistic inflates their overall record of voting together, they do have a history of voting together that rivals other Senate pairs from opposing parties.

Featured Fact-check

In the current Congress (starting in 2013), 16 states have one Democratic senator and one Republican senator. Of these 16 pairs, Begich and Murkowski voted together the most, at a rate of 65 percent in the current Congress, according to OpenCongress’ head-to-head comparison tool. The pair with the next-highest rate of voting together is 47 percent, belonging to New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, Republican.

OpenCongress’ data also showed that Murkowski is more likely than Begich to deviate from her party. She voted with Republicans 65 percent of the time in the current Congress, while Begich voted with Democrats 91 percent of the time.

One other point: National Journal ranked Begich as the 48th most liberal and 52nd most conservative senator in 2013, based on roll call votes from that year. The magazine ranked Murkowski as 56th most liberal and 44th most conservative, showing that they are both moderate voters.

How significant are these votes?

In her retort, Murkowski said the votes from this year -- on which the Begich campaign based the 80 percent figure -- were largely procedural, and that’s correct. She said the two senators have differed on important votes throughout the six years they have served together.

Here are a few votes with national significance since 2009 and whether or not they voted together:

  • December 2009, On passage of the Affordable Care Act: Disagree (Begich voted "yes," Murkowski "no");

  • July 2010, On passage of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill: Disagree (Begich "yes," Murkowski "no");

  • April 2011, In favor of stopping the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions: Disagree (Begich "no," Murkowski "yes");

  • March 2013, In favor of constructing the Keystone XL pipeline: Agree (both "yes");

  • June 2013, On passage of the Senate immigration reform bill: Agree (both "yes");

  • October 2013, On passage of the budget bill ending the government shutdown: Agree (both "yes");

  • Jan. 30, 2014, On delaying the increase of flood insurance premium: Agree (both "yes");

  • July 16,  2014, Failed motion to consider a bill to reverse the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision: Agree (both "yes").

Our ruling

A Begich campaign radio ad said, "Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich vote as much as 80 percent of the time together."

We found they had voted together 80 percent of the time. However, this statistic is based on the last six months, and Begich has served with Murkowski since 2009. The pair does, though, have a history of voting together more often than not -- about 60 percent of all votes since 2009 -- and the ad said "as much as 80 percent."

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Mark Begich for U.S. Senate, "Fighter Pilot," accessed July 16, 2014

OpenCongress, head-to-head comparison of Begich and Murkowski, accessed July 17, 2014

CQ analysis, Begich and Murkowski vote comparison 2009-present, accessed July 17, 2014

Begich for Senate, Begich and Murkowski vote comparison chart Jan.-July 2014, July 2, 2014

Alaska Dispatch, "Murkowski won't endorse in GOP Senate primary but hopes Begich is defeated," Jan. 20, 2014

Alaska Dispatch, "After Begich airs ad touting cooperation, Murkowski pushes back," July 15, 2014

National Journal, 2013 vote ratings, accessed July 17, 2014

New York Times, Inside Congress database, accessed July 17, 2014

U.S. Senate, Roll Call Votes 113th Congress - 2nd Session (2014), July 17, 2014

PolitiFact, "Begich supports 97 percent of Obama's economic policy, GOP challenger says," Feb. 20, 2014

CQ Roll Call, "Most fascinating races of 2014: Alaska Senate," Dec. 29, 2013

Phone and email interviews with Max Croes, Begich campaign spokesman, July 17, 2014

Phone and email interviews with Kevin Sweeney, Murkowski state director, July 16, 2014

Email interview, Brooke Hougesen, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, July 17, 2014

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Do Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski vote together 80 percent of the time?

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